Please note – minor spoiler alert; read at your own risk.
I don’t believe I have ever reviewed a film in this blog but I had a chance to re-connect with one of the iconic monsters of my childhood over the weekend and simply could not resist the urge to write a little about Godzilla.
I first encountered this reptilian force of nature when I was about eleven years old. After some bad experiences with horror movies (I had terrible nightmares), I had pretty much given up on the idea that I could go with my friends to the scarefests that they enjoyed so much. I just was not willing to pay the price. One night though, my resolve weakened and I went to take in the Toho offering, Destroy All Monsters with a couple of my friends.
Despite some initial trepidation, as I waited for the monsters to appear onscreen, I went home that night, having enjoyed the movie and slept soundly. Thus began what I called the Closet rule. As long as I did not go to see a movie with a monster that would fit in my closet, I seemed to be quite alright and did not suffer night terrors as a result. Godzilla led the cast of “Destroy” and so became one of my favorite movie characters. During the course of my life I have probably seen most of the films with the big guy in them including the 1999 retelling of the tale which I actually enjoyed despite its dissection and re-assembly of the Godzilla myth and Matthew Broderick attempting to be an action hero.
Fast forward to this weekend. I do not remember how I learned about this film – the marketing for the movie has been pretty low key – but I had been aware that it was coming out for a couple of months. I was not, honestly, expecting anything really outstanding although I was hopeful that, with the advances in technology, the film makers would be able to create a convincing monster and I would enjoy another session of cheering the big guy on as he flattened Tokyo or some other city.
Watching Godzilla work is something akin to watching films of massive storms or earthquakes. You know who is going to come out on top in the end, despite the machinations of the puny humans trying to stop him. This thought was my biggest gripe about the the 1999 version of Godzilla . . . you do not kill this monster. You may get him to plunge into dormancy, you may even think that you have put him down but he will, like hurricanes and earthquakes, always come back. He is a living embodiment of the forces of destruction that work on this planet as part of the continuing cycle of life, death and regeneration.
Too say that I was pleasantly surprised would be an understatement. The monster creations in this movie – Godzilla himself and his opponents, the MUTO – were wonderfully done. Godzilla looked like Godzilla, a vast prehistoric creature that made T Rex look like a midget with the trademark spiny ridge down his back. The belling roar that is his trademark was lovingly re-created and, when you see the spines along his back begin to glow phosphorescent white, any follower of the Toho films knows what is about to happen. The two MUTO creatures, a flight capable male and the larger and egg laden female, were worthy adversaries and it is obvious that the creators of the film spent some time studying not only old Godzilla foes but also looking at alien creatures in movies and predatory insects. The monster fight sequences in the film were the highlights of the movie (for me, at least).
My major fuss with the film is that there was not enough monster face time. While I understand that the director was trying to inject a human element into his creation and create suspense, I feel that the movie failed on this level. There were a number of good actors tapped for Godzilla and they did a creditable job but there was entirely too much “monster appears and walks by, then disappears into smoke, as the human heroes cringe and try to take in what they are seeing”. It is obvious to me that the director did not understand (despite the ending of the film) that Godzilla was the hero of this movie, not the human protagonist and, as such, that the big guy should have gotten more screen time than the puling mortal who runs around getting himself injured in various ways throughout the movie and, in the end, really has little effect on the outcome of the story.
In the same way, I found the director’s incessant desire to cut to protagonist’s wife, stuck in a subway station in San Francisco, as the apocalyptic battle rages outside, to be nothing short of ridiculous. Yes, she is terrified. We get it. Move on. The human characters did manage to create enough connection with me that I was glad to see them survive and reunite at the end but not so much connection that I did not resent their “intrusion” into the monster scenes and battles.
In this day and age when humankind seems to think it is “all that” and that we can overcome anything with our superior technology, I think that it is good to see a movie where the humans are basically helpless and where they have to rely on nature to re-balance itself after their monumental screw ups. Despite my issue with monster “face time”, I still heartily recommend this movie, especially if you are a fan of the old Godzilla. They did the monster right and he does what he does best in this movie – making humans remember that they are not the all powerful force in the universe.